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Jul 21, 2022

Take it from me. If you read a typical article about people analytics you will inevitably find a plethora of phrases like:

  • Vast amounts of employee data
  • Sophisticated data analytics software
  • Discover hidden insights
  • Leading companies deploying powerful analytics
  • Nuanced data-driven decisions
  • Advanced analytics

For the people that write this, there’s no doubting the fact it certainly makes analytics jump off the page. But this can be discouraging to the typical HR professional who doesn’t actually have access to vast amounts of data or sophisticated analytics software, or has never seen solid cases of ‘discovered hidden insights’ or impressive examples of ‘nuanced data-driven decisions.’

In fact if you ignore these hyped-up statements and instead look closely at the examples cited in those breathless articles, what you’ll really find is that what companies are doing is not so intimidating after all.

For example, a recent article I read about ‘advanced analytics’ cited cases of organizations that were:

  • Calculating turnover
  • Tidying up their systems so they could report accurate headcounts
  • Seeing which factors in their employee survey got the highest scores
  • Looking at a correlation between retention and career progression

Now, don’t get me wrong. These are all good things to do. They help move the organization on from making decisions without good data to making decisions on reasonably good data. BUT… there is nothing going on here that the typical HR team couldn’t do.

In other words, in the real world, analytics is NOT so out of reach of most HR teams. The truth is, that most of the time, it isn’t likely to be breathtaking. It will merely be useful.

What analytics actually involves

Analytics doesn’t always need vast amounts of data or sophisticated tools. In reality, the critical steps in people analytics are:

  • Knowing what is important to the business
  • Focusing on a specific answerable question
  • Gathering the best evidence that happens to be available
  • Making an actionable recommendation based on a professional judgment informed by data

Along the way, HR will want to work on improving processes so that they have clean data. They’ll probably want to integrate systems so that they can pull together all the data they need. They’ll probably start getting good at using tools like Excel, Microsoft BI, and Tableau to make basic analysis easier. If the company can afford it then they might also want to buy an advanced analytics tool. But the fact is, if they can’t then the absence of this seldom stops organizations from doing analytics.

What I’ve seen, and haven’t seen

What I’m really trying to say, is that I’ve seen HR professionals do many good things with people analytics. But I’ve rarely seen HR professionals – even in leading companies – do amazingly sophisticated analytics with vast troves of data. In most organizations, HR professionals can do useful people analytics with the staff, data, and tools they already have.

What’s really missing is time

Perhaps the missing ingredient in most organizations is just time.

An HR team needs to be given time to work on an analytics project. And when I talk about time, I’m talking days of effort, spread out over a couple of months. If your organization wants you to make data-driven people decisions, then the one resource you must insist on is time.

The unfortunate truth is that if you read a lot about analytics you may be misled about what analytics is all about.

Analytics is much more down-to-earth than what you’ve probably been led to believe. When you do analytics, you probably won’t be discovering hidden insights; you’ll merely be making more informed decisions.

On its own, this is no small thing. People analytics is within the grasp of most HR teams – but only if the organization gives them the time to do it.